Radium Part III: The NRC’s Role

Richard Chang
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

Radium_Periodic Element Table

We’ve been writing in this series about radium—how it was discovered, how it was used, how it can impact human health. Today we want to explain where the NRC fits in.

As we said in our last post, the states originally oversaw radium use. In 2005, Congress gave the NRC authority over radium through the Energy Policy Act. In 2007, we put in place our regulations on the control, use, and disposal of radium. These rules made clear that the NRC oversees radium only after it has been purposely concentrated for use.

Because many states already had laws on radium, we took over regulatory oversight in phases. We had full oversight for radium in all states by August 2009 (either through states that regulate nuclear materials under agreements with the NRC, known as Agreement States, or directly in those states that remain under NRC jurisdiction).

In 2007 after our regulations were put in place, we began talking to the U.S. Navy about radium contamination at their sites. As we learned more about this program and talked with the other branches of the military, we began working to clarify our role in the remediation at military sites. During the same time, we became aware of two specific radium cleanup efforts by other federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency has done cleanup work at the former WaterburyClockWaterbury Clock Company, in Waterbury, Conn. The National Park Service is also involved in a cleanup project at Great Kills Park, in Staten Island, N.Y.

As we learned more about these projects, it became apparent that a critical step for us to take would be identifying historical commercial radium sites; many of which were many decades old. As such, we began to look for sites in our jurisdiction that may have radium, and to find out how much, if any, cleanup was done. There are no known health and safety issues at any of these sites, but we want to make sure they do not pose a risk.

We contracted with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help us develop a full picture of commercial radium sites. The lab started by cataloging the different products developed and sold to the public in the early 20th century. Oak Ridge scoured existing publicly available literature, records and databases, identified sites where radium may have been used to make consumer goods and looked for any cleanup records. We received the final results in November 2015.

We are working to get more information about the sites under NRC jurisdiction. We will be reaching out to site owners. Our goal is to confirm that these sites do not pose a risk to public health and safety and the environment. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

5 thoughts on “Radium Part III: The NRC’s Role”

  1. Radium dials are described in the catalog of radium products in the section about luminescent devices. See: http://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1008/ML100840118.pdf Certain products containing radium are subject to general licensing and are identified within NRC regulations under 10 CFR 31.12. A member of the public can have up to 100 dials or gauges containing radium at a single location before a specific license is required, as long as they are not damaged in a way that would allow radioactive material to escape.

    Maureen Conley

  2. The radium in instrument and watch dials is dwarfed by the amount in NORM scale deposited in piping for oil, gas and geothermal energy projects.

  3. Interesting NRC that you take ownership of this radium problem all the while refusing to take any ownership for the real elephant in the room?! And that elephant is of course all the highly radioactive spent fuel stored at nearly 100 sites all across our country. The majority of this dangerous stuff is located right in the backyard of major population centers. An accident or a terrorist attack at any one of those sites would have devastating consequences for millions.
    High time to do the right thing NRC and get this lethal stuff moved to a safe remote central repository.

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